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Seattle Opera.

An American Dream

Aug. 21 & 23, 2015


World Premiere - Seattle Opera Commission

By Jack Perla
Libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo

PROVOCATIVE DRAMA WITH LOCAL CONNECTIONS. Treasured possessions become symbols of home in a Seattle Opera commission, part of the Belonging(s) project, inspired by true stories from our region’s history. This world premiere opera set during World War II explores the lives of two Puget Sound women: a Japanese American facing internment and a German Jewish immigrant preoccupied by those she left behind. Their struggles to maintain a sense of place in our region are given added resonance through moderated audience discussions bookending the opera.

In English with English subtitles | at McCaw Hall

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America, the 1940s

March 1942
A farmhouse on a Puget Sound island. An American veteran, Jim Crowley, and Eva, his new wife, have come to buy a home. A German Jew, Eva desperately wants her parents to leave Germany, where their lives are in danger. She hopes her family will find peace and sanctuary in this place so far from the war. Meanwhile, inside the home, a Japanese American family has heard that the FBI has been searching homes and arresting people of Japanese descent. The family burns their precious Japanese belongings, attempting to erase all ties to Japan in the hopes that they will avoid arrest.

Eva waits outside as Jim, knowing he has the upper hand, tries to get Makoto Kobayashi to sell the land for a fraction of what it is worth. The FBI arrives at the home and tells Makoto he is under arrest; the FBI found some old dynamite in the shed out back, and they say this contraband makes him a threat. Makoto decides, under the pressure of the situation, to sell the land to Jim. As the FBI agents take Makoto away, he and his teenage daughter, Setsuko, promise to meet at the farmhouse, the only home they know, after the war.

May 1942
Setsuko and her mother, Hiroko, have packed up the house. Setsuko holds her suitcase, ready to leave, when a postman delivers a letter. Setsuko sees that it is from Germany, for a woman named Eva. Angry that she is being forced to leave her home, the girl steals the letter.

A few weeks later
Jim and Eva move into their new home; they designate a room for Eva's parents. Jim tries to keep Eva's hopes up. Eva notices that small items have been left behind in the home: a piece of a record and a photograph. When she finds a beautiful Hina-Matsuri doll hidden beneath a floorboard, Eva asks Jim about the previous owners. Jim tells her that they were "Japs," sent to the internment camps. He tells her to throw away the doll, that it doesn't belong in a room for her parents. Eva defies Jim's wishes and hides the doll, promising to find its owner and return it at war's end.

May 1945
Jim and Eva hear an announcement on the radio of Germany's surrender. Eva, who has learned about the Kobayashi family and their whereabouts, writes to Setsuko, telling Setsuko she has something that belongs to her.

Later that month
While still incarcerated, Setsuko receives the letter. When her mother, who is gravely ill, inquires about the letter, Setsuko lies and explains that the letter is from her father, telling them to keep hope because the war is nearly done.

August 1945
Puget Sound Farmhouse. When a letter comes back to Eva from Setsuko, Jim intercepts it and tells Eva that Setsuko is not allowed in their home. President Truman announces the dropping of the atomic bomb.

September 1945
There is a knock on the door. It is Setsuko, returning to the home. Setsuko confronts Jim, reminding him that he coerced her family to sell their home for next to nothing. Eva asks Jim if this is true.

Jim tries to explain his actions to Eva, but she can't accept what he has done. She leaves the room to retrieve the doll she has promised to return to Setsuko. While she is gone, Jim confronts Setsuko, and Setsuko admits to another reason for coming. She is here to return Eva's letter. Eva returns to the room, and Setsuko gives her the letter. From the stolen letter, Eva learns of her parents' fate, and she collapses. Setsuko must finish reading the letter for her. Jim tries to comfort Eva. Setsuko's father arrives at the front door.

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The Belonging(s) Project

An American Dream is a new kind of opera—one whose story from the opera company’s community. Seattle Opera’s Belonging(s) Project, started in 2011, asked participants to respond to the question: “If you had to leave your home today and couldn’t return, what would you want to take with you?”

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D'Ana Lombard


At Seattle Opera in 2017/18: Eva Crowley, An American Dream

Soprano (Garden City South, NY)
D’Ana Lombard returns to Seattle to reprise the role of Eva in An American Dream. Recent performances include her debut at North Carolina Opera as Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro and Rosina in The Ghosts of Versailles and Mimì in La bohème at Wolf Trap Opera. She has been a member of the Houston Grand Opera Studio and the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artists Program at Los Angeles Opera. Recent awards include first prize in the 2014 Eleanor McCollum Competition Concert of Arias, a 2015 Sara Tucker Study Grant, and the Second Prize Award from the Gerda Lissner Foundation in 2016. 

Last updated: August 2017